Fantastic Four was, pardon the pun, doomed from the start. The film would have had to have been dead solid perfect for it to overcome the complaints about miscasting, reports of turmoil on the set and news of reshoots leading up to its release. Instead, what we got was for all intents and purposes an obvious cash grab by Fox. A 90-minute film that wasn’t screened for reviewers, that was sent out into the world in the hopes that it would have a huge weekend before moviegoers knew how horrible the film was. Unfortunately, moviegoers are much savvier than they were in years past. Audiences stayed away in droves, and the film became a flop in every sense of the word.
But it didn’t have to be this way. There is a lot of potential in the film and a lot of good performances wasted. So, today, on the date the film is released on DVD and Blu-Ray, I would like to suggest some scenes that would have addressed the Fantastic Four‘s problems and made Fantastic Four a great movie. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much. They would make it a good, or, well, at least a better film than the one we got.
Now, I’m not trying to say that I am a better writer than Simon Kinberg or whoever else was involved in writing the film. And the scenes, which I’ll admit are basically simple scenes that might seem rote and over played, are presented because they’ll get the job done. Whether or not this meshes with director Josh Trank’s vision, well, is anybody’s guess. And it won’t fix the fact that the entire cast is about a decade too old for their roles. Or Tim Blake Nelson’s hair.
And since there might be people out there who haven’t seen it yet and might still want to, let me throw this up there:
I’ll be discussing the film in detail, so maybe you should rent it and come back after.
Okay, here we go.
PROBLEM #1: REED AND BEN’S RELATIONSHIP, PRE-ACCIDENT
Reed and Ben’s friendship should be the backbone of any FF story. The film decides to show their friendship for the most part by having them stand in the same vicinity as one another. This is not great, but it works because they show them standing near each other at different parts of their lives, and from that the audience can extrapolate that they have been friends all this time.
However, once Ben helps Reed move into the Baxter Building, he all but disappears from the film until it’s time for him to participate in the accident that turns him into the Thing. Yes, there’s that hilariously awkward scene of him doing a fist pump when Reed sends him a picture of the completed MacGuffin, er, the Quantum Gate. But the friendship, which, I may remind you wasn’t really strongly established to begin with, is pretty much forgotten by the writers as Reed bonds with his new science-minded friends at the Baxter Institute..
Let’s play into this a bit. We could have one of two scenes:
- Reed blows off Ben for an event (ball game, birthday party, a weekly poker night, etc) that has a special meaning for the pair so Reed can hang out with Sue, Victor and Johnny, or…
- Ben tags along with Reed as he hangs out with Sue, Victor and Johnny and feels like the fifth wheel and/or that Reed has grown closer to these guys than he ever was to him.
This will build a sense of alienation between the two. This would make Ben more willing to jump at the chance Reed in the alternate dimension and add a bit of depth to the scene where Ben thinks Reed abandoned him after the accident.
PROBLEM #2: JOHNNY STORM, REBEL WITHOUT A CLUE
When we first meet Johnny Storm, he’s about to drag race with a car he’s modified himself. It doesn’t end well, and his disappointed father comes to pick him up at the hospital, and we are supposed to realize that Johnny is a bit of a bad seed. Dr. Storm essentially blackmails Johnny to come back to the Baxter Institute to work on the Quantum Gate. Some lip service is paid to the elder Storm being concerned that Johnny isn’t living up to his potential, and Johnny basically wanting to be left alone to do what he wants, but this seems a pretty flimsy reason to hang this much rebellion on.
Insert a classic “daddy likes you best” scene. You know, the one you’ve seen in countless movies before. The reason you see it so much is because it is a great bit of shorthand to establishing sibling rivalry and child/parent resentment.
Have Dr. Storm heap a bit too much praise on Sue and not enough on Johnny. Or have him show more affection to her than him at some point. The fact that Sue, the adopted child, appears to be Dr. Storm’s favorite in Johnny’s eyes makes his acting out a cry for attention and , therefore, more believable, and his resentment a little more raw.
PROBLEM #3: DOOM
Screwing up Doctor Doom has become a long-standing tradition in film, much like the Wilhelm Scream and John Ratzenberger voicing a character in every Pixar film. The greatest villain in comic book history comes up lacking in every big screen incarnation, and it isn’t any different here, despite Toby Kebbell’s inspired performance. While he isn’t the cyber terrorist the pre-release rumors said he would be, he doesn’t have presence the character deserves.
I’m mostly focusing on what would make the Fantastic Four a better film, not a better representation of the comics, but I think elements of Doom’s comic book backstory would have made him a better character in this film, albeit taking it away from the grounded reality Trank was going for.
The comic book Doom is the monarch of Latveria. That probably wouldn’t be a feasible role for the 20-something Doom of the film. But the writers could have made Victor an exiled prince of Latveria, orphaned when rebels over threw his father’s monarchy. He is in political exile in the US.
The comic book Doom also had ties to the Romani and whose mother was a witch that was killed by the devil and taken to Hell. You could have had the film Doom be born into the Romani, coming to the US to escape the persecution his people faced in Europe.
Either one would have made the film Doom a more interesting character. His bitterness at the world and antisocial behavior would have a root in either storyline, and being an orphan forced out of his home would give him a commonality with Sue that could have sparked their romance (See PROBLEM #4) and would have made Von Doom a more sympathetic character. You could have even brought up the “mother imprisoned by the devil” aspect, either as an eccentricity that Doom truly believes in that compels him to seek access to other dimensions, or simply a lie his father told him to explain his mother abandoning his family. Either way, it tells more about him as a person. This background could have easily been introduced with a couple of sentences in the drinking scene before the boys stole the Quantum Gate.
PROBLEM #4: THE PHANTOM ROMANCE OF SUSAN AND VICTOR
The film dances around the idea that Susan and Victor having a prior relationship before Reed enters the picture but never commits to it. We never get the full nature of the relationship. Did they date? Did Victor have feelings for Sue and was rebuked? Was Sue the one who was rebuked? Was Victor stalking her? The only clues we get is Von Doom’s asking if Sue will be at the Baxter Building and Sue’s snarkiness towards Victor when she sees him again.
But even though the film plays fast and loose with the true nature of Sue and Victor’s relationship, it still wants us to use the relationship add depth and emotion to other scenes. When Victor calls Reed “unprofessional” for chatting up Sue, we’re supposed to think of him as the jealous ex-boyfriend. But he could also be an overprotective stalker or a just a helpful friend. We never know because we were never given any context. When during the final confrontation Doctor Doom bemoans the fact what he and Sue had could have been special, we are supposed to be moved and sad he is leaving his humanity behind. Instead, we are asking what they had in the first place.
Write one scene where we know the exact nature of their relationship. That shouldn’t have been that hard. And considering that they are both orphans from Eastern European countries, them having enough in common to go out on a date or two would not be out of the question. Have Victor come over to Sue during a slow period of building the Quantum Gate. Have him try to rekindle their old relationship, only to get shot down by Sue. This would make Victor’s nihilism and hatred at the whole world a side-effect of Sue breaking his heart, making him a more compelling villain.
PROBLEM #5: SUE NOT GOING TO THE NEGATIVE ZONE
If shoehorning Doom into the FF’s origin wasn’t bad enough, this film went a step further than it’s predecessor by having Sue not taking an active part in the jump to the Negative Zone. Looking at it from a screenwriting perspective, she needed to stay behind to help everyone else return home. But in a film where nobody is a fully-fleshed out character, Sue gets the short end of that already teeny weeny stick. Her characterization basically consists of being a fan of a band that had one moderate hit two years before she was born, being an expert at pattern recognition, being adopted and maybe, possibly being Victor Von Doom’s girlfriend at one time.
But not having her along in the Quantum Gate actually damages her character. She still gets powers, sure, but she holds no agency in getting them. She didn’t make the colossal mistake of going to the Negative Zone with the others, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anybody just walking through the room could have received powers the same way she did, which makes her not all that special. She is more a victim than anything. If anybody has a right to complain about getting powers, it’s her, not Ben. Ben volunteered to go over. All she did was try to help her friends get back safely. And for that she has to spend the rest of her life concentrating really hard to make sure other people can see her.
If the film decided to pursue the “Sue as victim of circumstance” thread, it would at least have added an aspect to her as a character. But it didn’t. And Sue is worse for it.
I’m trying to work under the logic that I am adding scenes to what was already in the movie. That means I can’t use the obvious fix of having the Quantum Gate have five pods instead of four and letting Sue tag along in the first place. That being said, all we have left is maybe have Reed offer to collect Sue, only to get a throwaway line from Johnny and/or Victor saying that if Sue knew what they were doing, she’d run and tell her father. Not exactly the best piece of characterization, but it does give her a layer of morality. Even if she doesn’t believe in the rule, it still must be followed. It doesn’t make her any less of a victim, but at least that’s something.
PROBLEM #6: NOT SHOWING HOW THEY LEARNED TO DEAL WITH THEIR POWERS
One of the best parts of the film was the way they presented the team after they got their powers. Franklin Storm mournfully looks on as his son can’t stop burning and his daughter can’t stay visible. Reed has to be put on a jury-rigged series of tables to support his elongated limbs, which he cannot contract. And Ben is encased in a rock that he must fight his way out of. This promised to be a refreshing change from the typical superhero film. Instead of the powers resulting in joy and euphoria, the powers were a horrific burden to be endured. We weren’t going to be treated a montage of them blowing up cardboard targets set to a Fall Out Boy song. We were going to be treated to a harrowing struggle of their trying to get back as close to humanity as possible.
Of course, we didn’t get that either. The film decided at this point to jump one year later. Ben is already killing for his country, with Johnny soon to join him. Sue has not only returned to visibility, but has learned to throw up force fields as well. Both siblings are wearing suits that allows them to control their powers. Reed, who has escaped governmental custody and been on the lam for a year, has even managed to throw together a suit for himself to keep his body in human being-eque dimensions. In other words, the film cheated us out of a pretty interesting journey for our heroes, one that you don’t see in many other superhero films.
Add a scene that shows their struggles. You know what? You can still have a montage. Have it set to a song by Fall Out Boy, Maroon 5 or whatever other trendy band you want. But have it show what happened in that year. Show us how Reed got to Central America when his arms and legs were like spaghetti. Show us how Ben was able to break free of the rock and maybe give us some reaction from him about becoming a killer for the government. Have Franklin Storm work with Baxter Institute scientists on the suits that will bring his children back to him. Show us how Reed did the same thing on his own without top of the line government equipment and resources to back him up. And show us how they each dealt with psychological burdens their “curses” brought them.
PROBLEM #7: REED AND BEN’S RELATIONSHIP, POST-ACCIDENT
When Reed escapes, he leaves his relationship with Ben on bad terms. Like, Reed chooses to ignore Ben’s pained pleas for help in order to escape, making Ben feel abandoned bad. So Ben can’t wait to go to collect Reed once Sue finds him. On the trip back, Ben tells Reed in no uncertain terms that they are no longer friends and that he blames Reed for his condition.
This lasts, well, it’s hard to say how this lasts. Because Reed and Ben are back to being pals in the final scene, joking with each other, with no resolution to the broken friendship in the previous scene.
Right before Reed is captured, the film shows us that he was following Ben’s adventures and implied he was working on a cure for him. Certainly this research would have been confiscated by the government. Odds are the government would be keeping this info under lock and key because they don’t want their killing machine to turn all shiny happy. Have Sue find out about Reed’s research, sneak it out of wherever they were keeping it, and show it to Ben. She’d probably want Ben to know that Reed didn’t forget him or abandon him. This would make Ben at the very least open to a reconciliation. Tack on a scene where Ben forgives Reed, and the cheery ending all of a sudden makes sense.
PROBLEM #8: DOOM’S HEEL TURN
To be honest, Victor Von Doom wasn’t that bad a guy before he got into the Quantum Gate. A bit of a loner, a little too blunt at times, but not the raging egomaniac and pompous ass we typically expect the character to be. And he’s certainly not the kind of person who you would think would want to kill every living being on Earth.
But that is what Doom is when he gets back. His time on Planet Zero has turned him from an anti-social grump into a genocidal maniac. And, as is typical of all the character arcs in this film, there is very little explanation for the change, other than a throwaway line of his earlier in the film about the world not being worth saving.
Show us what Doom experienced on Planet Zero. Show us his nervous breakdown, his sense of abandonment, and the psychological changes that being exposed to that green goop brought on. Wanting to kill every living being is a big step. Show us how he got think mass murder on a global scale would be a good idea, give us a reason why he was motivated to do so. This scene could go hand in hand with the fix for PROBLEM #4 as Sue’s rejection of him could have been a blow to his sanity even before he got in the Quantum Gate. And it would also show us a counterpoint to the fix to PROBLEM #6 as Doom’s decent into madness could show what would have happened to Ben, Johnny and Sue if they didn’t have a support system or to Reed if he lost his humanity. And the best comic book movies have villains that are in some way mirror-like counterpoints to the heroes.
PROBLEM #9: THE ENDING
It has been pretty much confirmed by numerous sources that the ending to Fantastic Four we got wasn’t the one we were supposed to get. The prevailing wisdom states that Fox stepped in at the last minute and shot a new ending for the film in effort to salvage it. They even went so far as to cancelled a planned 3-D conversion of the film so they could pour more money into reshoots.
If this was the case, then it didn’t work. Not that the film up to that point should ever be compared to a tuxedo, but if it was, the ending was a pair of old, ratty tennis shoes worn with that tuxedo. It didn’t scream “satisfying conclusion to our story” but “the best we could do with the limited amount of money we had left over. ” Not only did it seem tacked on, it seemed cheaply thrown together and tacked on as well.
I don’t even know if there would be a fix available for the ending. My first inclination would be move the climax to Earth instead of Planet Zero, making the stakes higher and also letting the people of Earth know that the Fantastic Four were fighting for them, but it was probably set there because dirt and rocks are easier and cheaper for a computer to render than trees, buildings and roads. But this whole article has been about making the film better, so I gotta work with what I got to try and come up with some kind of a fix.
First thing I would try to come up with was explain why Doom just didn’t explode Ben, Sue, Reed and Johnny’s heads. Doom seems to be able to do that with impunity while on Earth. Heck, he turned the government base into a road company version of Scanners. But when the team confronts him on Planet Zero, he decides to cover them in rocks. This could be fixed with a throwaway line from Doom saying that isn’t possible because they were altered by the same radiation that altered him, or something like that.
I would have made it obvious that Johnny was only able to close the portal with his flame because Ben knocked Doom into the beam. Because if all that was need to stop the process was a heat source, the military could have done that with a tactical nuke. Granted, the REAL reason Johnny was able to do that was because the writers wanted him to play a part in the resolution, but still.
They say talk is cheap, so I would have added more of it to the climax. Have the Fantastic Four work out their differences because they realize they might die. Have them plead to their former friend’s humanity to try and get him to stop. Have Doom lash out verbally at the FF, listing all the slights against him real or imagined. Make the climax seem like a culmination of the entire film to this point by the characters referencing things that happened in the story so far. Since they didn’t have enough money to pack it with enough action to make it a satisfying conclusion, at least make it more emotionally satisfying.
So, those are might ideas for scenes that would make Fantastic Four a better film. They might not be the best ideas you could imagine (and if you can imagine better, leave them in the comments) but I think they are a whole lot better than what we have got. Watch the movie with the scenes above in mind as see if I am right.